|It was a lovely summer day in 1906 when
a traveling salesman, Peter Lymburner Robertson, was demonstrating a
spring loaded screwdriver.
usual, if a demo can go wrong it will, and Robertson cut his hand when
the screwdriver slipped. It is not recorded if he made the sale or
not but the incident did drive Robertson to invent a better screw
Robertson developed the socket head screw which
revolutionized an industry. The Robertson's screw and screwdriver, the best kept
secret outside of Canada, were born.
"This is considered by many as the biggest little
invention of the twentieth century so far," he was heard to exclaim. His
special square headed screw and driver had a tighter fit than a slot and
rarely slipped. Robertson also developed a machine to make his screws
(see image at right)
The Robertson socket head screw soared in popularity.
Craftsmen favoured it because it was self-centering and could be driven
with one hand. Industry came to rely on it for the way it reduced
product damage and sped up production. The Fisher Body Company, which
made wooden bodies in Canada for Ford cars, used four to six gross of
Robertson screws in the bodywork of the Model T and eventually Robertson
produced socket screws for metal, specifically for the metal bodied Model A.
But wait. If the square screw was superior, why
do you not find them outside of Canada? Why, if Ford thought it
was good enough for his Model T and Model A, was it not good enough for the rest of
There is a lesson to be learned here for inventors.
When testing the Roberson screw for their assembly
line, Ford found that they could save upwards of 2 hours of assembly
time per vehicle. Ford, wanting to protect his assembly advantage,
asked for a licensing agreement from Robertson so that he might
manufacture and control the distribution of the screws.
Robertson had expanded, by this time, into Europe.
But his fortunes turned bad when the war (WW1) struck and his European
partners turned out to be less than honourable.
However he was riding the euphoria of a blossoming
product and despite his losses in Europe, he felt that giving a license
to Ford would not be in his best interest.
Shortly thereafter a guy by the name of Phillips had
no such reservation over licensing to Ford and, as they say, that was
The Robertson Screw Company was headed by Robertson
until his death in 1951. It has grown to over 600 employs,
including 120 in Robertson's home town of Milton, Ontario.